Moon of Alabama -May 2, 2023:https://www.moonofalabama.org/2023/05/ukraine-sitrep-offensive-in-doubt-no-talks-social-breakdown.html#more
May 02, 2023
Ukraine SitRep: Offensive In Doubt – No Talks – Social Breakdown
Since early April, when Pentagon briefing slides about the state of the Ukrainian army ‘leaked’ onto the web, the writing in ‘western’ media about the much discussed Ukrainian counteroffensive has become more gloomy.The hyping is largely gone and the assessments become more realistic. Three days ago the London Times offered a piece in that category:
Ukraine isn’t ready for its big offensive, but it has no choice (paywalled, archived version)
Kyiv is locked into a spring or summer push despite burning through ammo so fast that the West can’t keep up. Luckily Russia is out of ideas too
[W]hile the Ukrainians are moving quickly to assimilate their 230 new and reconditioned western tanks and 1,550 armoured vehicles, they still lack proper air defences for any big offensive operation. That puts them at risk from Russian airpower. Western defence sources are also uncertain whether senior commanders can adapt to the new systems as well as their soldiers on the ground.
Yet Kyiv has little real choice but to launch a major spring or summer offensive. Its leaders are increasingly boxed in. As an American defence official put it: “The Ukrainians have surprised us as well as Putin in the past, but have much less room for manoeuvre now . . . and the Russians know it.”
President Zelensky has managed the West with great skill, but to maintain its support he has to show what Washington insiders rather tastelessly call a “return on investment”.
He must also balance domestic politics. Hawks such as Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, prevent any meaningful talk about negotiations, even though some in the government think now is the time to put out feelers. One western diplomat in Kyiv described a “surreal parallel experience” as his interlocutors “discuss potential formats for negotiations one evening” and then “shout that there can be no talks with Russia” in public the next day.
During the war Kiev first burned through its standing army material and personnel. It then received a large amount of Soviet era equipment from former Warsaw Pact members and burned through that stash. It has now received ‘western’ arms for a third army that will largely consist of mobilized civilians with little military experience. After the counteroffensive has run its course, no matter the outcome, that third army will largely be destroyed. There will be no more material and personnel for a fourth army.
In contrast the Russian military is largely undamaged. So says General Cavoli, the U.S. commander in Europe:
Russian ground forces have suffered significant losses in Ukraine. Despite these setbacks, and their diminished stockpiles of equipment and munitions, Russian ground forces still have substantial capability and capacity, and continue to possess the ability to regenerate their losses.
Russia remains a formidable and unpredictable threat that will challenge U.S. and European interests for the foreseeable future. Russian air, maritime, space, cyber, and strategic forces have not suffered significant degradation in the current war. Moreover, Russia will likely rebuild its future Army into a sizeable and more capable land force [..] Russia retains a vast stockpile of deployed and non-deployed nuclear weapons [..]
Russia pursues a military modernization program that prioritizes a range of advanced conventional, hybrid, and nuclear capabilities to coerce the West. […] These weapons provide Russia asymmetric threats to NATO and present new challenges to Western response options.
If or when the Ukrainian counteroffensive will start is still an open question. The weather is a major factor:
The spring rains have been much more intense this year than normal. The heavy downpours in Zaporizhzhia over the last few weeks have turned the battlefield into a gelatinous soup.
“This has been an unusual spring,” a commander with the brigade said. “There has never been this much rain before.”
There is of course also the question of ammunition. Ukraine already lacks sufficient numbers of artillery rounds. Each days it uses more than it receives and what it receives is more than the ‘west’ can produce. The counteroffensive will burn through whatever ammo is left. Then what?
There may be additional reasons to hold up the counter offense. The British Ministry of Defense is requesting offers from the industry for some specific equipment. Among it are mine breaching equipment for main battle tanks, tank launched bridges with 70 tons capacity and transporters for heavy main battle tanks.
With around 40 tons Soviet tanks are build significant lighter than ‘western’ tanks which weigh up to 70 tons. The newly delivered Leopard and other tanks can not pass over typically Ukrainian country bridges without seriously damaging them. Without the necessary infrastructure and support equipment in place the ‘western’ tanks are largely useless. To launch a counteroffensive against hardened Russian defense lines without such equipment is not really possible.
But waiting is not possible either. There is not only the pressure from Washington and other supporters of the war in Ukraine but there is also the permanent threat of Russian strikes on the accumulated stocks and forces. As longer those stay in the preparation areas the higher is the chance that they will get detected and destroyed.
Over the last two weeks Russia destroyed a large part of the Ukrainian air defenses in the Kherson and Pavlograd region. There are no replacements for those systems.
Still, the British Ministry of Defense seams to believe that the war will continue for several more years. For Ukraine it also wants to acquire:
Missiles or Rockets with a range 100-300km; land, sea or air launch. Payload 20-490kg
The closing day for that request is May 4. If you happen to have a few of those missiles laying around or if can produce those you have two more days to make your offer. But realistically the earliest possible delivery for such missiles will likely be in 2024/25. One wonders if Ukraine will by then still be around.
Yves Smith is discussing the chances of a ceasefire after the counteroffensive has run its course. She finds that Russia is unlikely to agree to one without receiving very significant concessions:
I don’t see how peace talks get anywhere. The hawks are still in the driver’s seat and will either balk at negotiations or set preconditions. Recall Russia previously rejected preconditions; even if they were to entertain them now, the odds are very high the West’s initial demands, like an immediate ceasefire, would be rejected, or quickly vitiated by Russian counters like “Only if you suspend the sanctions.” That does not mean there won’t be backchannel chatter, but don’t expect it to go far.
Let’s charitably assume, despite all that, that the West actually does ask Russia to negotiate. Unless the request is made in an obviously unacceptable manner, Russia has to entertain it.
But I don’t see how this goes anywhere until leaders in West have really, really internalized that Russia holds a great hand and does not have good reasons to stop until it has subjugated Ukraine.
And all Russia has to do to substantively sabotage negotiations is to bring up the demand that Putin has been making in different forms since the Munich Security Conference of 2007: security guarantees.
Who will give them? The gleeful French and German admissions of duplicity with respect to the Minsk Accords means no NATO state can be trusted, save maybe Turkey (and if Erdogan survives, he’ll likely be deemed too close to Russia to be acceptable). The US clearly can’t be trusted. China would not be acceptable, and is not suited to the role (it’s not a land power and does not have a presence in theater).
So unless some tail events happen (and Taleb warns tails are fat), we still look to be on course to Russia prosecuting the war until it can impose terms on Kiev.
Meanwhile the social-economic situation in Ukraine is getting worse:
The scene in the pawn shop illustrates the crisis of growing poverty in Ukraine, the reality of which stands in contrast to the surface bustle of Kyiv’s busy restaurants and bars where it is often hard to get a table, with many living a precarious existence.
Poverty increased from 5.5% to 24.2% in Ukraine in 2022, pushing 7.1 million more people into poverty with the worst impact out of sight in rural villages, according to a recent report by the World Bank. With unemployment unofficially at 36% and inflation hitting 26.6% at the end of 2022, the institution’s regional country director for eastern Europe, Arup Banerji, had warned that poverty could soar.
Behind his window in Treasure, Stepanov describes the hardships experienced even by those who have work. “The price of everything has gone up. Food is the most expensive and then it is fuel for the car. Some things have gone up by 40-50%. Before the war my wife would go to the supermarket to shop and it would cost 200 hryvnia, now the same shop costs 400-500.”
The billions of dollars and Euros the ‘west’ provided to Ukraine are skimmed off by those who visit fancy restaurants and bars in Kiev. Those not in the bribes receiving circles will have to get used to being hungry.
And here’s Macgregor: